We Heart: SNL’s Tribute to the Feisty and Fed-Up “Women of Congress”


The 2018 midterms welcomed a huge crop of feminist fresh(wo)men who ran as feminists, won as feminists and then stood—or, rather, dressed–in solidarity with their feminist foremothers at the State of the Union last week, wearing “suffragette white” outfits adorned with ERA YES pins.

This weekend, Saturday Night Live paid homage to them the only way they know how.

“Once upon a time, there were women,” a narrator announces at the beginning of the “Women of Congress” spoof on a seventies-styled television series. “Then they became fed-up women. Then they became Congresswomen.” The send-up of the fiery feminists of the 116th Congress also includes a nod to their historic diversity: “They wear white,” the narrator explains, “but they’re not all white—and we love that.”

The narrator goes on to introduce several stars of the 116th Congress, endowing them along the way with hilarious, zeitgeist nicknames. First up is Nancy “Madame Clap Back” Pelosi, in a recurring role played by the hilarious Kate McKinnon, who is “so woke” she can’t close her eyes. She’s followed by Alexandria “I Say What I Meme” Ocasio-Cortez, played by Melissa Villaseñor.

Leslie Jones as Maxine “Don’t Go Chasing” Waters arguably steals the skit with her announcement for viewers: “They call me Auntie Maxine, but I’mma make Trump say ‘uncle.” Kyrsten “Kooky Arizona Lady” Sinema, played by Cecily Strong, tries her own hand at the same when she comes on screen, throws a poison dart into a clueless and nameless man’s neck and boldly declares: “I’m bicameral, bipartisan and bi; deal with it.” Ego Nwodim as Ilhan “Get the Hi-Job Done” Omar brags instead that when Ted Cruz sees her, “he crosses the street.” Anne “Raise the Roof” Kuster, played by Aidy Bryant, encourages fellow women to “break that glass ceiling” with her hands held high above her head.

Abigail “Say My Name, Say My Name” Spanberger, played by Heidi Gardner, bookends the introductions when she brings Pelosi back into the fold with a jab at Republican attempts to sink Democratic nominees by attacking the now-Speaker of the House on the campaign trail. And SNL musical guest Halsey ultimately closes out the ensemble act as Rashida “Impeach the Motherf**er” Tlaib. (You can guess her sassy introduction line.)

The skit also includes a scene from the show: The lady squad, huddled around Speaker Pelosi’s desk, communicate with a faceless Trump over an intercom in the same way the eponymous Angels used to talk shop with Charlie. When Trump attempts to take credit for the record number of women serving in Congress, they grow rightfully irritated.

“You don’t get to take credit for that!” they exclaim. “That is not because of you; that is in spite of you!” After Tlaib smashes the intercom, Waters delivers a final zinger before the women walk slowly away from a fiery explosion in the background: “And you’re not rich.”

We’re crossing our fingers that this series gets renewed for another season.

Roxy Szal is an editorial intern at Ms. After four years of teaching English to Texas middle-schoolers, she earned a Masters in Journalism and Mass Communications at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her graduate capstone project eventually grew into a misogyny in the media watchdog project called How Not to be Sexist

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Radical Romance: Examining Our Disruptive Affection for AOC


The right loves to hate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In a Wall Street Journal editorial, Gerard Baker compared her lack of experience to Donald Trump’s. Bret Stephens linked her to the catastrophe in Venezuela in the New York Times. But their ire has no effect on me and millions of other people—because Ocasio-Cortez has cast a spell on us. 

In fact, as someone who writes about romance as an ideology, I am rather surprised by just how much people across the country fallen for the woman known casually as “AOC.” Of course, we’ve fallen in love with young and beautiful politicians before. (JFK and Obama come to mind.) It’s just that AOC is outside the romantic narrative that so structures American life, both personal and political.

For one, she’s a woman. Our romantic fantasies about politicians tend to be similar to Disney fairytales: a handsome prince comes in and saves us from our woes and we ride off into our own happily ever after. That was the hope we had with Obama and the Camelot of JFK’s Whitehouse. Even on the right, the romance of politics is always male, although more a daddy figure than a prince—think Daddy Reagan or Papa Trump.

But Ocasio-Cortez also doesn’t offer us a fairytale ending the way romance does. Romance promises that we will see our prince/ss across the room, fireworks will go off and we will ride off safe and secure into our own private happily ever after.

That is the promise of romance: that love is all we need to be happy. It is also the trap of romance, since our own individual love stories, as encompassing and powerful as they feel, don’t take away from our need for shelter, food, clothing, health care and drinkable water. It’s surprising, then, that AOC is able to disrupt romance—because killing romance is a bit like killing capitalism.

Romance is a kind of ideology that developed alongside capitalism. Intense and erotic love existed before then, of course, but it didn’t promise us a happily ever after, or a safe and secure future through marriage. Pre-modern ideas about romance usually ended badly, like Romeo and Juliet; or involved a threesome between the Lady, her Knight and his Lord. But sometime in the nineteenth century, probably about the same time that Esther Howland started the first Valentine’s Day card factory, romantic love got tied up with fairytale endings that promised heaven on earth—once we found “the one” and bought them all the right stuff.

Fast-forward a few centuries. For the past couple of decades, even as marriage rates have gone down, Americans have embraced the promise of a happy and secure future through marriage with a vengeance. We privatized our futures. And why not? Everything else, from health insurance to education, was being privatized. Collective solutions to a better future, like Communism, had shown themselves to be not knights in shining armor, but drunken louts who left us in rags and without one of our shoes at midnight.

We started to spend more and more on white weddings, with the average cost now  more than $33,000, and more than twice this much in big cities. We even started to spend more and more on our wedding proposals, making them spectacular with marching bands and flash mobs and professionally edited YouTube videos with millions of likes. We read more romances than any other genre of fiction. Even gays and lesbians got in on the act, spending most of our political and economic resources on securing marriage rights rather than, say, universal healthcare for all families.

Yet when Ocasio-Cortez proposed a 70 percent tax on the super-rich, the vast majority of Americans also agreed with her. And most Americans think she’s right that we need “Medicare for All.”  

“Capitalism has not always existed in the world,” AOC said, “and will not always exist in the world.” If we can imagine that world, maybe we can also imagine one without romance—an ideology that blinds us with fairy dust to what we really need to build a safe and secure future for everyone.

Love is blind. Love is all you need. Love will find a way. Love trumps hate. In the muck of 2019, the propaganda slogans of the romance-ideological complex sound as empty as the Leninisms that littered Soviet streets. Slogans that signal a far more communal sense of the future, though, suddenly ring less hollow and sound more urgent—among them Green New Deal, Universal Healthcare and Livable Wage.

I felt a heart-warming spark of hope as I stamped my frozen feet this January in New York City, awaiting my beloved Ocasio Cortez at the 2019 Women’s March. Maybe we have finally wiped the fairy dust out of our eyes. Maybe we have started building a future that is not about our own individual love stories, but our love for humanity and our love for the Earth.

Laurie Essig is the author of Love, Inc.: Dating Apps, The Big White Weddings and Chasing The Happily Neverafter and Professor of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies at Middlebury College.

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2019 Reads for the Rest of Us


The Feminist Know-It-All: You know her. You can’t stand her. Good thing she’s not here! Instead, this column by gender and women’s studies librarian Karla Strand will amplify stories of the creation, access, use and preservation of knowledge by women and girls around the world; share innovative projects and initiatives that focus on information, literacies, libraries and more; and, of course, talk about all of the books.


As a reader, I’m always surprised at how challenging it can be to quickly locate books written by women from historically marginalized or underrepresented groups. It’s not that the books aren’t being written—they just are often not afforded the same visibility as titles written by white women, and definitely not by white men.

As a librarian with expertise in gender, women’s and LGBTQ studies, I am uniquely equipped to find these titles—and have been on a mission to curate lists specifically dedicated to books written by women, defined broadly, with a particular focus on Black and Latinx women, women of color and Indigenous women writers; lesbian, bisexual, aro/ace, queer, intersex, transgender and gender non-conforming writers; international writers; writers who are disabled, neurodivergent, justice involved or living in poverty; or any number of other writers whose stories haven’t been as visible. (Including white ones and, at time, even men!)

I’ve been offering these new book lists and reviews on my website for the last year, and I’m now thrilled to offer this to more readers with Ms.! These are the 2019 releases about which I am most excited. And it might not look like the list you’re expecting.

In putting this together, I wanted to focus on titles that haven’t been included on other lists from Bustle, Nylon, O Magazine, The Millions, Book Riot, Publisher’s Weekly, etc. (I read them all! My favorite is by R.O. Kwon for Electric Lit.) There are some amazing books coming this year that you’ve already heard about that won’t be on this list—think: The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray, Magical Negro by Morgan Parker, Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women, On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. While I can’t wait to read these, I’ve left them and other higher-profile books off the list to make room for those that I’m excited about but haven’t seen other places.

I plan to read and review as many of the books on this list as I can over the next year—and will share my thoughts with you right here once I do! I also hope to explain why, as a white woman, I find it absolutely imperative to read the work of women outside of my own identities. But those are future columns…


January

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine

by Emily Bernard

In this volume, English Professor Emily Bernard includes twelve personal pieces about her lived experience as a Black woman—from growing up and attending university, to marriage and parenthood, and even the random stabbing that encouraged her to share her stories. Dr. Bernard’s belief in the regenerative power of writing is beautifully demonstrated in this memoir of essays. Emily Bernard is on Twitter @emilyebernard and Instagram @bernardemily.

A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland

by DaMaris B. Hill

At exactly the right time, University of Kentucky professor DaMaris B. Hill has written a powerful collection of poems examining the incarceration of Black women. Dr. Hill profiles women such as Lucille Clifton, Eartha Kitt, Ida B. Wells and Assata Shakur and, in poetry, demonstrates the multiple ways Black women experience being bound, hemmed in, fettered, imprisoned. I will be processing this book for a long time. Follow DaMaris Hill on Twitter @damarishill and Instagram @dr_digifeminist.

It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America

by Reniqua Allen

Writer, producer and journalist Reniqua Allen has published this timely critical examination of Black millennials in the U.S. who are caught between Civil Rights-era promises and post-Obama realities. Giving Black millennials much-needed airtime, Allen shares their stories alongside keen reporting of how they are playing the game by their own rules—and winning. You can find Reniqua Allen on Twitter @rnz1.

Thick: And Other Essays

by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick has already gotten a lot of play—and rightfully so—but I had to include it anyway because of how excited I am to read it. With this book, Dr. Cottom wanted Black women “to feel seen”, and by all accounts, they do after reading this book. Centered on the importance of Black women taking up and holding space—literally, figuratively and all ways in-between—Thick is one of the reads of the year. Follow Tressie McMillan Cottom on Twitter @tressiemcphd and on Instagram @tressiemcphd. See also: Thick the Book.

February

Borders of Belonging: Struggle and Solidarity in Mixed-Status Immigrant Families

by Heide Castañeda

I can’t think of a more timely issue to learn about right now than the struggles of immigrant families, especially when some members have legal status and others do not. In this ethnographic study, Dr. Castañeda explores issues imperative to the safety and health of these immigrant families and the strategies of solidarity they use to survive. Follow Heide Castañeda on Twitter @CastanedaHeide.

Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism

by Marquis Bey, out February 19

Dr. Regina Bradley called Them Goon Rules “a provocative and compelling interdisciplinary trans-­feminist read of American society and culture from a Black perspective,” and Dr. Kai M. Green said, “Bey demonstrates a distinctive radical vulnerability that can only be the result of working in and through a Black queer feminist lens.” If you enjoyed Unapologetic by Charlene Carruthers or Black on Both Sides by C. Riley Snorton, I think you’ll dig this one. You can find Dr. Marquis Bey on Twitter @marquisdbey.

We Set the Dark on Fire

by Tehlor Kay Mejia, out February 26

While not usually a reader of romance, I am excited for one featuring two powerful Latinx women fighting for agency in a fantastical world struggling (much like our own) with issues of immigration, equality and privilege. This YA debut is receiving rave reviews and I am here for it. Find Tehlor Kay Meija on Twitter @tehlorkay and on Instagram @tehlorkay.

March

Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story

by Jacob Tobia, out March 5

I am a big fan of memoirs, especially memoirs that have something to teach—and we have so much to learn about gender! Tobia shares their story in Sissy with candor, wit and sensitivity. Like Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men, this is a book we really need. Follow Jacob Tobia on Twitter @JacobTobia and on Instagram @jacobtobia.

New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent

by Margaret Busby, out March 8

Over 25 years ago, Margaret Busby brought together essays from over 200 women writers of African descent in one landmark volume, Daughters of Africa. In 2019, she does it again with this companion of another 200 writers such as Roxane Gay, Nnedi Okorafor, Eve Ewing, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Edwidge Danticat. This book is over 700 pages and I can’t wait to dig into it!

On Intersectionality: Essential Writings

by Kimberlé Crenshaw, out March 12

It’s here! It’s here! The collection of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s writings that we’ve all been waiting for! Crenshaw’s collection of essays and “a sweeping new introduction” will cover over two decades of intersectional feminist writing—and be required reading. Follow Kimberlé Crenshaw on Twitter @sandylocks and check out her non-profit, the African American Policy Forum.

Malawi’s Sisters

by Melanie S. Hatter, out March 15

Selected by Edwidge Danticat, Melanie Hatter won the inaugural Kimbilio National Fiction Prize for Malawi’s Sisters. Inspired by the 2013 shooting of Renisha McBride, the book is focused on the grief and healing of a Black family after their daughter was fatally shot by a white man. Hatter has written a story that Danticat calls, “timely and well executed” and that’s enough for me. Follow Melanie S. Hatter on Twitter @mshatter1.

To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism

Edited by Keisha Blaine and Tiffany Gill, out March 19

An impressive array of scholars and writers contribute to this volume examining Black women’s engagement internationally. Topics include travel, migration, the arts, politics, activism and more. With Dr. Keisha Blaine and Dr. Tiffany Gill as editors, this collection is bound to be thorough, critical and well-executed. Follow the editors on Twitter @KeishaBlain and @IAmTiffanyGill.

Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

Written and gathered by adrienne maree brown, out March 19

adrienne maree brown follows her popular Emergent Strategy with this collection of essays focused on how to make activism more pleasurable and healing than stressful and unforgiving. Some of my favorite writers have contributed to this volume including Sonya Renee Taylor and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Follow all three on Twitter @adriennemaree, @Sonyareneepoet and @alexispauline. (And don’t miss Gumbs in conversation with Ms. scholar and contributor Janell Hobson as part of the Ms. Black Feminist in Public series.)

April

The Affairs of the Falcóns: A Novel

by Melissa Rivero, out April 2

After the Falcóns flee Peru, the family struggles to make it as undocumented immigrants in New York City. In this important debut novel, Melissa Rivero tackles a challenging and pressing issue in accessible, vivid prose. Follow Rivero on Twitter @melissa_rivero and on Instagram on @melissarivero_.

The Body Papers

by Grace Talusan, out April 2

Grace Talusan’s The Body Papers is a challenging, candid memoir of finding meaning and hope in the midst of the challenges of immigration, racism, depression, abuse and cancer. As a fan of memoirs, I look forward to spending time with this Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Follow Grace Talusan on Twitter @gracet09.

In the Night of Memory: A Novel

by Linda LeGarde Grover, out April 2

In her latest book, Linda LeGarde Grover (Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe) revisits the Minnesota reservation of her previous novels and focuses on the younger generation of Ojibwe girls. This coming of age story brings together themes of missing women, family and community, complicated histories and collective wisdoms.

Holding the World Together: African Women in Changing Perspective

Edited by Nwando Achebe and Claire Robertson, out April 16

This collection of essays, edited by Dr. Nwando Achebe (professor at Michigan State University and daughter of Chinua Achebe) and Dr. Claire Robertson (professor emerita at The Ohio State University), includes an impressive list of contributors. Topics focus on the myriad of ways women across Africa wield power, act as agents of change and the challenges they face while doing so.

May

The Farm

by Joanne Ramos, out May 7

There’s been some buzz surrounding Joanne Ramos’ The Farm, but I couldn’t resist including it on my list as well. In this, her debut novel, Ramos presents the reader with a world where fertility commands a high price, in more ways than one. This is a story that inspires critical examination of notions of motherhood, immigration and capitalism, in gripping prose.

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

by Sabrina Strings, out May 7

With this book, Sabrina Strings presents readers with an historical examination of fatness, Black women and the stigma and fears surrounding fat Black women. Dr. Strings hypothesizes that fat phobia doesn’t stem from health concerns, as so often argued, but instead from a desire to control and oppress by gender, race and class.

June

My Seditious Heart

by Arundhati Roy, out June 4

Here’s another one I’ve been waiting for: a complete collection of Arundhati Roy’s nonfiction writing! At almost 1,000 pages, this volume is a monster. But so is she, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m just going to grab it, slowly make my way through it and chew and digest it, one bite at a time.

We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir

by Samra Habib, out June 4

In this candid memoir, Samra Habib explores family, queerness, faith, tradition, feminism and creativity from her perspective as a Pakistani Muslim. Follow Samra Habib on Twitter @therealsamsam and on Instagram @samra.habib.

If It Makes You Happy and Tell Me How You Really Feel

by Claire Kann, out June 4; by Aminah Mae Safi, out June 11

These are just two of the fantastic LGBTQ titles coming out in 2019. If you enjoy YA titles featuring diverse characters and contemporary coming-of-age themes, these are for you. Find the authors on Twitter @KannClaire and @aminahmae.

The Record Keeper

by Agnes Gomillion, out June 18

I read a few great dystopian novels last year such as The Book of M by Peng Shepherd and Suicide Club by Rachel Heng. This year I hope that books such as The Record Keeper will scratch my itch for unique speculative fiction. Follow Agnes Gomillion on Twitter @agnesgomillion and on Instagram @agnesgomillion.

The Stationery Shop

by Marjan Kamali, out June 18

Marjan Kamali has written an intense story of love and loss set in Iran, against the backdrop of the 1953 coup d’etat. It’s a grand saga spanning decades and countries, centered on a young couple in love. Will they end up together or will circumstances beyond their control keep them apart? Follow Marjan Kamali on Twitter @MarjanKamali.

The Travelers

by Regina Porter, out June 18

Regina Porter has penned this new American saga that spans the 1950s through the Obama presidency. Fans of character-driven historical fiction will enjoy this one. Follow Regina Porter on Twitter @ReginaMPorter and on Instagram @reginamporter.

July

Speaking of Summer

by Kalisha Buckhanon, out July 30

I don’t read many thrillers or mysteries but the description of Speaking of Summer piqued my interest. Critically acclaimed novelist Kalisha Buckhanon presents a story of a missing twin and the sister searching for her throughout Harlem. I’m eager to give this one a try. And I am in love with this cover. Follow Kalisha Buckhanon on Twitter @KalishaOnline.

August

A Pure Heart: A Novel

by Rajia Hassib, out August 6

Raija Hassib has written this gripping contemporary novel about two Muslim sisters who grew up in Egypt and then took very different paths as adults. When one sister is killed, the other uncovers continuous challenging questions in her quest for understanding and closure. Follow Rajia Hassib on Twitter @rajiahassib.

The Memory Police: A Novel

by Yoko Ogawa (Author), Stephen Snyder (Translator), out August 13

Acclaimed Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa has written a frightening new dystopian novel about state surveillance and strange disappearances. The description reminds me of Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M in which people’s shadows begin to disappear along with their memories. I’m intrigued by this book, written by a prolific author who has won every major literary award in Japan.

Trans Love: An Anthology of Transgender and Non-Binary Voices

by Freiya Benson, out August 21

This anthology includes essays about transgender love including familial and romantic love, friendship and self-love. Full of candid voices and stories, this thought-provoking volume is edited by writer and photographer Freiya Benson. Follow Benson on Twitter @scarlettraces.

September

Pet

by Akwaeke Emezi, out September 10

This is the book I am most excited for in 2019. If you read my review of Akwaeke Emezi’s debut adult novel, Freshwater, you would know that it was my top read of 2018. Emezi has a style all their own, filled with edges, curves and corners. While I await their second adult novel due out in 2020, I will devour this, their first YA novel, a tale of monsters and those who deny their existence. Follow Akwaeke Emezi on Twitter @azemezi and Instagram @azemezi, and click here to read the Ms. Q&A with Emezi.

Renia’s Diary: A Holocaust Journal

by Renia Spiegel, out September 17

For the first time this year, the diary of Holocaust victim Renia Spiegel will be published in English. Spiegel was a Jewish Pole who began her diary at age 15 in 1939 when she went to live with her grandparents after the start of the war. Spiegel wrote almost 700 pages before she was killed in 1942. Destined to become a new classic of primary Holocaust literature, the diary relates the life of a teenage girl during the Nazi occupation, in all its raw insights, candid emotions and aching fear. Not to be missed. Learn more at the Renia Spiegel Foundation.

High School

by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin, out September 24

A memoir by Tegan and Sara? Yes, please. That is all. Find Tegan and Sara on Twitter @teganandsara and Instagram @teganandsara.

October

In the Dream House: A Memoir

by Carmen Maria Machado, out October 1

This is Carmen Maria Machado’s follow up to her extremely popular Her Bodies and Other Parties. A memoir of an abusive relationship, In the Dream House challenges readers’ assumptions of safety, lesbian relationships, humor, abuse narratives and memoir. Follow Machado on Twitter @carmenmmachado.

The City We Became

by N. K. Jemisin, out October 8

This is the first book in a new series by N.K. Jemisin, best known for her speculative fantasy works but also last year’s short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month? I’m looking forward to getting in on the ground floor of this new series. Follow N.K. Jemisin on Twitter @nkjemisin.

Escaping Exodus: A Novel

by Nicky Drayden, out October 8

Fans of scifi and magical realism will be excited for this spacey standalone novel by Nicky Drayden. Escaping Exodus sounds like a fantastical, save-the-world adventure and I can’t wait for it to take me away! You can find Nicky Drayden on Twitter @nickydrayden.

Who are you excited to read this year? Tell me in the comments!

Karla J. Strand is the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian for the University of Wisconsin. She completed her doctorate in Information Science via University of Pretoria in South Africa with a background in history and library science, and her research centers on the role of libraries and knowledge in empowering women and girls worldwide. Karla is working on her first book, a history of the Office of the GWS Librarian, due out in 2020. Tweet her @karlajstrand.

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How Anti-Abortion Laws Hurt Pregnant Women


Two “gay” penguins recently “adopted” an egg and became “proud fathers” of a baby girl. How reporters covering the story determined that the penguins identified as gay is anyone’s guess—but nonetheless, it’s a feel-good story in a society that increasingly accepts and celebrates different types of families. Yet my excitement for the two penguin dads is clouded by the reproductive injustice faced by so many women in American society—especially those who are single, low-income and/or women of color.

Celebrating diverse families is important. Real reproductive justice, though, requires woman-centered reproductive health laws.

Anti-abortion laws that focus on creating rights for fetuses take rights from women—and put them in danger. (Larissa Puro / Creative Commons)

State legislatures have been passing laws to restrict abortion at breakneck speeds in the last decade—and their latest strategy is to do so by granting rights to fetuses. Several measures in last November’s midterm elections advanced that agenda, including Alabama’s Amendment 2, which makes it state policy “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children;” and moves in Ohio and Oklahoma defining an “unborn human” as a legally protected person and abortion as homicide, which is punishable by death.

These laws take away pregnant women’s rights—whether those women intend to terminate their pregnancies or to give birth. In a recently overturned decision, a court in Arkansas convicted Anne Bynum of “concealing a birth” after she had a stillbirth at home in 2015 and took the fetal remains to a hospital. Law enforcement arrested her on suspicion that she had attempted to self-abort, and a jury convicted her. She was sentenced to six years in prison before the Arkansas Court of Appeals reversed the conviction in December 2018.

In other cases, feticide laws have been used to prosecute pregnant women for having accidents or mental health problems. In January 2010, Christine Taylor was arrested and charged with attempted feticide after she fell down a flight of stairs while pregnant. Taylor told a nurse in the Emergency Department that she had considered abortion earlier in the pregnancy because she had separated from her husband. The nurse subsequently reported Taylor to law enforcement, and she spent two days in jail before they dropped the charges. In December 2010, Bei Bei Shuai, an immigrant who suffered from severe depression, attempted to commit suicide when she was 32 weeks pregnant. She survived, but her fetus did not. Instead of offering her treatment, an Indiana court charged her with murder and attempted feticide. After spending over a year in jail, she pleaded guilty to “criminal recklessness.”

Other states take punitive actions against pregnant women who use drugs or alcohol; the worst violations of pregnant women’s rights under these laws have targeted low-income women of color. Rennie Gibbs, an African American teenager, had a stillbirth in Mississippi in 2006 after her umbilical cord wrapped around her baby’s neck. She was sentenced to life in prison by a Mississippi court for murder when an autopsy found a cocaine byproduct in her stillborn daughter’s blood. In a more recent case, Kelli Leever-Driskel was charged with feticide, manslaughter and possession of methamphetamine after giving birth to a stillborn baby boy in February 2018.

Laws that prioritize fetal rights over women’s rights also make it more likely that pregnant patients will experience disrespectful care, including violations of their right to informed consent and bodily integrity. Court-ordered cesareans are a prime example. At least a dozen states have obtained court-orders to force unwilling pregnant women to undergo cesarean deliveries, even though it is not legal to force a woman to undergo surgery. These cases are rare, but they highlight the ways that a focus on fetal rights can be used to deny pregnant women fundamental rights. In my own research, I also found that pregnant women are less likely to receive evidence-based care or to have a vaginal birth after cesarean in states that restrict contraception and abortion than in states that protect women’s reproductive rights.

More than abortion is at stake when laws deny pregnant women the rights to make decisions about their pregnancies. Those who oppose abortion might do well to note that states with more abortion restrictions have worse maternal and infant health outcomes, including higher rates of maternal and infant mortality.

Many Americans value the life of an unborn fetus—but the life and well-being of pregnant women is essential to those who love them. Moral objections to abortion cannot be solved by prioritizing fetuses over women’s lives. Instead, we should empower women to make the right decisions for themselves, their children and their families—and find ways to guarantee that all women are able to plan their families on their terms and, if they so choose, to parent with dignity.

Dr. Louise Marie Roth is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. She teaches medical sociology and sociology of gender, and is writing a book about maternity care in the United States.

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Unfiltered: Why Jessica Abo’s Book is the Perfect Galentine’s Day Pick


“Social media is not the enemy,” Jessica Abo said at a recent gathering of Jewish women in Los Angeles. “Loneliness is the enemy.” In that moment, I sat up straighter in my chair.

As women today celebrate friendship for “Galentine’s Day,” our social media feeds are undoubtedly full of picture-perfect couples and love stories—and Abo’s calls to action to all of us to stop perpetuating the social media cycle of “compare and despair” and make room to “care less about what everyone else is doing and more about what’s good in [our own] life” is as timely as ever.

Lisa Niver and Jessica Abo.

Abo’s book Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media, is a confessional and a revelation. “No one tells you staying positive is a mental exercise that should be classified as a marathon with its own medal,” she writes. “Have you ever noticed how quickly one negative thought can turn into a million? … The next thing you know, you’re on the express train to Negative City with no stops in sight.”

In Unfiltered, Abo opens up to readers about her career as an anchor, her experiences in philanthropy and her own quest to find love and offers worksheets and practical exercises to nudge us along on a journey toward fulfillment and happiness. Whether reader’s take Abo up on her advice to use the notokapp.com or partner with a friend to reach their goals; get inspired by her examples from Teachers Righting History, DreamJobbing.com or TED talks; her book will ultimately make you seek out the best next step for yourself.

One of my own a-ha moments came when Abo discussed her faith. When we met, she explained that she made sure a Menorah was included on the Five-Day forecast during Chanukah while she worked at one broadcast station. “He always had ghosts for Halloween, Santa for Christmas,” she said, “and I wanted to make sure Chanukah would be represented, too.” That small gesture led to a small shift in my own life: I have made an effort since our meeting to post about Shabbat each Friday. If I am in Los Angeles, I attend Shabbat services at temple, but it was not something I ever thought to mention on social media. Abo helped me realize how important it is for girls to see Jewish women in the media, and as adventurers and wanderers.

Abo’s perspective on rejection is also ripe for inspiration. “Sometimes being rejected from something good,” she writes in Unfiltered, “is directing you to something better.” I remembered then how disappointed I was last summer when I wasn’t selected for a three-month project on the East Coast—and that I was later invited on two bucket-list trips, which led to several great story opportunities, and which would eventually take me to the graces of Jane Goodall, Jean Michel Cousteau and Seth Godin. What I was available for by being rejected was much better for me. “Do your own thing on your own terms,” Abo urges readers. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there. Just keep going.”

I often think that my own advancement—and progress for our culture-at-large—is taking too long, but we all have no idea what the “right” amount of time really is. Abo’s focus on happiness, resilience and empathy similarly emerges and intersects, in part, from and with her activism. Her #SeeHer project seeks to lift up women in the media and entertainment; The Female Quotient’s Gender Equity Measurement tool is helping to increase the number of women in advertisements. But these days, her mission is to inspire other people to embrace life’s messy moments and share more of them.

“I launched #LiveUnfiltered as a way for people to join this movement,” she explained. “I would love to see more people post their real, unedited moments. Those are what remind all of us that we’re human and enable us to create more meaningful connections online and in real life.”

One mantra guides Abo and the readers through tales of her hopes, disappointments and successes: “We’re all a work in progress.” If you need a boost of you can do it, you need to buy yourself a copy of this book.

“Whenever you feel lost, remember this is temporary,” she writes. “Whenever you make a mistake, allow yourself to be upset but don’t let this setback consume you for too long. Whenever someone posts about their awesome office view, team, project or product remember you can have that sense of work pride too. Whenever you find yourself in a different place form your friends, remind yourself that outgrowing certain dynamics is part of growing up and life is not a race. Whenever you’re on the edge of breaking up with dating and everyone around you is getting engaged, married and having kids, stay in your lane. Whenever life crushes you with bad news or a new reality, honor your feelings. Whenever you see someone doing something inspiring, think about what keeps you up at night and look into what you can do around that issue.”

Unfiltered feels like a good talk with the one friend who can shake you out of a rut and get you back on track. This Galentine’s Day, I can’t think of a better book club read.

Lisa Ellen Niveris an award-winning travel expert who has been to 101 countries and six continents. Her website, We Said Go Travel, was read in 212 countries in 2018. Lisa has written for AARP, American Airways, Jewish Journal, Smithsonian and Wharton Magazine and is working on a book—Brave Rebel: 50 Adventures Before 50—about her most recent travels and challenges. She also talks travel on KTLA TV and on YouTube, in videos with nearly 900,000 views. In the meantime, you can find Lisa underwater SCUBA diving, in her art studio making ceramics or helping people find their next dream trip. 

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Menstrual Equity’s Red Carpet Moment


A notable outlier among the mostly-male nominees for this year’s Academy Award for Best Director of a Documentary Short is Rayka Zehtabchi, whose work tells a uniquely female story—one which emerged from a transnational feminist coalition fighting for menstrual equity.

Period. End of Sentence. tells the moving story of a quiet revolution taking place in a rural village outside of Delhi, India: In the face of stifling menstrual stigma that has persisted over generations, a woman-led sanitary pad business is shifting culture. Zehtabchi’s film chronicles the installation of a sanitary pad-making machine—and the subsequent empowerment women involved in producing and selling the menstrual products find as they become entrepreneurs and build feminist community.

Boys and girls alike face the camera in Period. and resist even saying the word. Women confess to viewers, with raw honesty, the lengths they went to in order to make do with dirty rags during menstruation before deciding to drop out of school. These stories echo the stark statistics around menstruation in nations like India, where between 25 and 57 percent of adolescent girls miss school or drop out altogether because of their periods and others even commit suicide to escape menstrual stigma. The negative impacts on girls lives—including financial dependence and an increased risk of forced child marriage and teen pregnancy—also extend to their national economies, which lose billions in GDP when girls step out of the classroom.

The woman in Zehtabchi’s Period. decide to confront these gender-based disparities head-on. They name their brand “FLY,” because they want women “to soar.” They go door-to-door selling boxes of pads at lower prices to reluctant customers away from the leering men who stare them down at large marketplaces.

For Zehtabchi, making the film was an opportunity to participate in the project hands-on—and complete a crash-course in documentary filmmaking. Zehtabchi has a background in short films, but had previously worked on narrative projects. She began the project by doing extensive research, and constructing an idea in her mind of where the story might lead. Once she was in India, helping construct the machine and forging relationships with local women, she found herself starting from scratch—and doing her best to tell their story instead.

Zehtabchi tells that story with prowess, weaving a massive movement into a stunning cinematic moment. The film is punctuated by humor, awash with optimism and constructed through stirring imagery and intimate glimpses into the inner worlds of women across the village.

“It’s a very beautiful process,” Zehtabchi explained to me on stage at an event hosted by Netflix in Los Angeles, where we discussed the film and fielded questions from Academy members in the audience. “It changed me as a filmmaker.”

The women featured most prominently in Period.—including Sneha, a young Indian woman who dreams of forging her own path as a police officer in New Delhi; and Gouri Choudari, chair of feminist organization Action India—came to the fore because of their own passion for the project. But their work was, in part, also enabled by the efforts of high school girls half a world away who only appear in the credits.

Members of the Girls Learn International chapter at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles raised the initial money needed to install the machine through vegan bake sales, yoga-thons and two successful Kickstarter campaigns. Their partnerships with Action India, which was founded in 1976 to engage in community-based work locally and insert Indian women’s voices into the feminist movement at-large; and the Feminist Majority Foundation, GLI’s parent organization founded in 1987 to advance women’s equality around the world, eventually led to Period.—and the launch of menstrual equity non-profit The Pad Project.

The young feminists at Oakwood knew from speaking to girls around the world that it wasn’t just the village of Hapur which urgently needed a dose of period pride, and they wanted to amplify the inspirational story they were watching unfold through their work. Switching gears, they became producers—and hired Zehtabchi, then a recent graduate of USC film school, to direct a film about their efforts.

Born in Japan and raised in Southern California, Zehtabchi was an unlikely but perfect fit for the project emerging from a transnational, intergenerational collective of feminist activism. Period. End of Sentence. screened across the U.S. at film festivals throughout the summer and fall of 2018 before being taken on by Netflix. For Zehtabchi, that’s a happy ending: “We wanted something short that people could share,” she explained, “which is why Netflix is a perfect home for it.”

The rest, as they say, will be herstory—and regardless of whether Period. lands Zehtabchi on the Oscars stage, she’s awed by what she and the village of feminists who made the film possible have accomplished. New pad machines are already slated for construction or in construction in villages beyond Hapur. Zehtabchi will remain involved with The Pad Project as a board member. And this week, Netflix viewers around the world will be able to stream the documentary and get involved themselves.

“You don’t often get to see change in real time,” she confided to the Academy members who gathered with us that night, remembering what it was like to return to Hapur six months after the pad machine was installed. “I’m so proud to have had the opportunity to tell this story.”

Join FMF, GLI and Netflix for a screening of Period. End of Sentence. and a Q&A with the women featured in the film and the student activists from Oakwood later this month in Los Angeles!

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. , co-host of TRIGGER HAPPY on Binge Networks and co-founder of Argot Magazine. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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The Ms. Q&A: What Alexandra Robbins Learned as an Undercover Greek


It’s been nearly 15 years since author and journalist Alexandria Robbins famously went undercover at an unnamed college to write Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. The controversial exposé about collegiate women’s experiences in Greek life earned Robbins both critical acclaim (Pledged was one of five of her books to become a New York Times bestseller) and furious criticism (largely from Greek organizations, some of whom banned their members from reading the book).

Nevertheless, Robbins persisted in writing about unknown legends. The Overachievers: The Secret Life of Driven Kids landed her an interview on The Colbert Report; The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School was awarded a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year.

Robbins has an intuitive way of foreseeing grit that her peers would do well to strive for. While other journalists shuffle after politicians and celebrities, stirring the gumbo pot of bewildering controversy, Robbins instead chooses to stand back—decoding the big picture before deciding when to zoom in, and pursuing not what might garner the most clicks but what contributes the most imperative knowledge.

Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men is born of that mold—but not in the same way as Pledged. That was a different era, a different lens. Fraternity, an unfiltered, candid examination of toxic masculinity in Greek life, is absolutely a product of the #MeToo movement—yet there are no villains or clear bad guys. Writing an anti-fraternity manifesto would likely have been an infinitely easier choice for Robbins, but it wasn’t the path she took. Instead, she sought successfully to weave hope from chaos.

Robbins spoke to Ms. about patriarchy on campus, going undercover in the Greek system and what it might take to reshape college culture.

Pledged is an infamous investigative exposé of the Greek system. Fraternity seems more educational and straight-forward. What motivated your approach?

I think both books are fast-paced stories that also happen to be educational and straightforward—and surprising, unexpected viewpoints that the public hasn’t heard before. (As of now.) The difference in the books is the way people perceive the subcultures.

In my work, I strive to represent voices that are not heard. When I wrote Pledged, the public knew little about sororities beyond their pearls and purity image, so it came across as an exposé. Today, the public knows little about fraternities besides what they see in the headlines, which misrepresent many of these undergrads.

I wanted to represent what it’s like to be a college guy today, from the point of view of the guys themselves. Because of the times, Fraternity is also a broader look at masculinity in America. Readers—whether they are students, parents, educators or just interested in a good story—haven’t seen this approach to this topic.

I had a journalism professor once refer to those kinds of characters—members of under-represented or misrepresented communities—as “unknown legends.” What draws you to them? 

I like that: “unknown legends.” As a storyteller, I prefer to tell the tales that people haven’t heard before. I try to write them in a way that both makes them root for the real-life “characters” and gives them useful information in the process.

In the case of Fraternity, readers will learn a lot about the pressures and mindsets of boys of all ages—and their thoughts about masculinity, which is particularly crucial to understand in today’s landscape. My favorite kinds of books are the ones you can’t put down because of the story and that you remember after reading because you feel like you’ve learned something important and helpful in the process. Like a smart beach read. So that’s what I strive to write.

How did you find Jake and Oliver, the two “lead” characters in Fraternity? How did you know that they were the right men to follow in this adventure? 

I was looking for good guys: intelligent, nice, genuine and committed to having a positive, healthy fraternity experience. Neither of their stories turned out how I had expected, and there were some unexpected twists and surprises during the year. I also wanted to follow guys who were self-aware and willing to share with readers even the intimate details about their lives. Jake was amazingly candid about not just his fraternity life, but also his quest to conquer his social awkwardness, and even embarrassing details about hookups.

Did you see anything in them that you saw in Vicki, Sabrina, Caitlin or Amy—your “leads” from Pledged?

Finding sources for Pledged was a bit of a scramble, because my plan to openly embed in a sorority house was derailed at the last minute by the chapter advisor. With Fraternity, I had much more time to get to know Jake and Oliver before their year-in-the-life stories began. With that said, I’m fans of all the “main characters” from both books. They are all good people whom readers like, and they were all willing to share everything about their college lives so that readers could get the full picture.

One reason why Pledged became so popular was the undercover method of reporting you used—but that approach would be near-impossible for a woman trying to cover fraternity life. What tactics did you use instead?

Fraternity is also a voyeuristic, fly-on-the-wall look inside Greek houses. It’s similar to Pledged in terms of the stories and secrets, though Fraternity had more unexpected plot twists.

I can’t go into details about the process, but suffice it to say that readers will feel like they’re right there with Jake and Oliver—and there’s a reason for that. I can add that there were some covert techniques involved in the reporting, and that the process took about the same time as it did for Pledged. The storytelling should read similarly, I think.

Do you believe that social media has had a significant impact on fraternity life overall? (Within the actual fraternities, I mean, not viral photos or videos of fraternity members doing problematic things.) 

I believe social media has had a significant impact on all students, whether or not they’re Greek. Social media can take up a ridiculous amount of time when students feel they have to constantly monitor their public image. And it heightens the distinctions between people who are going out often and people who aren’t, which can put pressure on students who think they’re not having the college experience they “should” be having.

Social media posts also exacerbate misperceptions—making students think that their peers are drinking more, hooking up more, and having more fun than they are. So that’s a negative. I’ve seen statistics that show that teenage girls use social media more than teenage boys; the boys are more likely to be gaming. Anecdotally, I’d guess that sororities are more likely to use social media to post selfies and pictures of events while the fraternities are using it more for private threads among brothers.

Do you think there will be as strong of a reaction to Fraternity as there was with Pledged? I worked as a Greek beat my freshman year, and even the most simple stories about fraternities led to about a dozen hate-emails and DMs from fraternity brothers. Have you prepared for possible backlash? 

So far, so good. I think Greeks will be pleasantly surprised by this book, because it’s not the caricature that’s typical of media coverage of these groups—both the stories and the information for parents and students are balanced and written from the perspectives of fraternity brothers themselves. As a broader look at campus masculinity, the book might spark healthy debates and discussions, but I don’t consider that a bad thing.

In any case, I’ve received hate mail before—and there’s not much I can do to prepare for it other than to respect that everyone’s entitled to their opinions, and that sometimes these issues can be polarizing. But the book makes clear that I’m pro-students.

What lessons about masculinity do you hope boys and men should take from Fraternity

The book is written for college and high school students, parents and general nonfiction readers, whether they like a good story or they want to understand more about masculinity today. It’s meant to have broad appeal so that it can be a tool to spark important discussions.

It’s crucial for everyone to understand the pressures, stereotypes and expectations that young men are dealing with in America right now. There are countless ways to be masculine, and an individual’s identity should not be wrapped up in how he or she fulfills a gender role. We need to let young men know that they should feel free to be who they are.

You can connect with Robbins on Twitter @AlexndraRobbins and learn more about her work at alexandrarobbins.com.

Austin Faulds is a student studying journalism at the Indiana University and a feminist-fueled filmmaker. Coffee, cats and punk rock are some of his favorite things.

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The Gender Gaps Shaping the Grammys


Awards season is upon us—and, along with it, much ado about persistent gender gaps in the entertainment industry. New research from the USC Annenberg Inclusivity Initiative serves as a powerful reminder that the Grammy Awards should be no exception—and that the music industry at-large has far to go to get to equal representation across lines of gender and race.

Staggering gaps in women’s representation across the music industry impact the Grammys—and shape culture. (James Munson / Creative Commons

Analysis by USC researchers of 700 chart-topping songs by 1,455 artists found that only 21.7 percent were by women—and only 12.3 percent of the songwriters and 2.1 percent of the producers were women. These numbers show that women make up a significant number of popular recording artists, even if they remain underrepresented—but that the people in control of their content are largely men.

Despite a stronger showing for artists of color—44 percent of the songs analyzed featured a non-white singer, and the recording artists with the most credits were Rihanna, the leading woman with 21 solo credits, and Drake, the leading man with 33—only four women of color producers were listed out of 871 total mentioned in the study. The numbers of songwriters, too, suffered from double-binds of racism and sexism: Max Martin, a white man, led with 39 songwriting credits; Nicki Minaj, who was the leading female songwriter, only had 18.

When 75 woman songwriters and producers were asked by USC researchers to name their biggest barriers to success, 43 percent reported that their skills were discounted by others in the industry. These gender gaps shape the Grammys: From 2013 to 2019, only 10.4 percent of Grammy nominees at-large were women.

The study’s authors outlined solutions that could help the music industry reach parity, including fostering all-female spaces and “creating environments where women are welcome.” The experiences of those same 75 women showed what impact that could have: 39 percent said they had been objectified, 28 percent said their ideas were dismissed and 25 percent said that they were the only woman in the room.

Gaps in gender representation across the music industry don’t just prevent women from advancing or achieving acclaim—they push them out of the studio. Time’s up on that kind of sexism. Instead, it’s time to demand action.

Ashley LeCroy is an editorial intern for Ms. and a passionate self-identified feminist who aims both to advocate and make space for the world’s most marginalized communities. Ashley is currently pursuing a dual degree in Political Science and English with a minor in Anthropology at UCLA—where she writes for FEM, the student-run feminist news magazine, and works on the Art Series staff for the Cultural Affairs Commission.

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Picks of the Week: Three Awkward, Activist, Women-Driven Coming-of-Age Stories Streaming Now


Picks of the Week is Women and Hollywood’s newest resource. We are often asked for recommendations, so each week we’ll spotlight the women-driven and women-made projects—movies, series, VOD releases and more—that we’re most excited about. Sign up for the Women and Hollywood newsletter at womenandhollywood.com to get each week’s pick delivered to your inbox.


Netflix Series of the Week: “One Day at a Time”

Created by Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce

Still from Netflix Series of the Week: "One Day at a Time" 

“One Day at a Time” accomplishes something that is beyond most sitcoms’ abilities: it’s joyfully entertaining and yet incredibly educational and pointed politically. In just the first two episodes of the new season, the Netflix series manages to talk about coming out, male privilege and toxic masculinity. (I didn’t want to watch them all at once—so I could spread out the joy.)

Over the first two seasons, Elena, the teenage daughter played by Isabella Gomez, dealt with her sexuality. She now is finally out. At a family funeral, she spots a cousin who she is convinced is gay and in the closet. Turns out that cousin has been out—and that the whole family even attended her wedding.

The second episode deals with the objectification of women: When mom Penelope (Justina Machado) discovers her son’s private Instagram page and realizes that his version of a joke is actually really hurtful to women, she not only teaches him about toxic masculinity, but brings her lessons to work and schools the sexist co-worker whose behavior has been rubbing off on her son.

Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce have created a gem of a show. “One Day at a Time” uses the specificity of one family of color in Los Angeles to examine the social issues affecting everyone. (Melissa Silverstein)

Season 3 of “One Day at a Time” will be available on Netflix February 8.


Short Documentary of the Week: Song of Parkland

Directed by Amy Schatz

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It’s been less than a year since 17 people died at the hands of an active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—but a lot has changed. The gun control movement has been reborn thanks to the teen activists who survived the shooting. There have been massive protests across the country calling on elected officials to put the public’s safety ahead of the NRA’s agenda. Following the events of February 14, 2018, there has been a palpable shift in the way our culture responds to gun violence.

In other words, beautiful things have formed in the tragedy’s aftermath. That’s the main idea of Amy Schatz’s new short HBO doc, Song of Parkland.

The film centers on Marjory Stoneman Douglas drama teacher Melody Herzfeld and her students, who decide to put on their annual children’s musical when the school re-opens. It’s an emotional ordeal, but a cathartic one as well. Herzfeld and her kids believe that the musical, “Yo, Vikings,” will bring some much-needed joy to the community—and they’re right. The show also allows them to express their grief and hope in a creative context.

A memorial for those who lost their lives on Valentine’s Day last year, a testament to resilience and art and a call to action, Song of Parkland reminds us that the personal is inherently political. It’s impossible to watch the Marjory Stoneman Douglas drama department stage their production and not think, “Why didn’t we protect them?” (Rachel Montpelier)

Song of Parkland will air on HBO February 7 at 7 p.m. EST and subsequently be available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.


Hulu Series of the Week: “PEN15”

Created by Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle and Sam Zvibleman

"PEN15" still

If you combined the early-aughts setting of Lady Bird; “Eighth Grade’s” honest, cringe-inducing depiction of middle school; and the surreality, comedy, and lovely central female friendship of “Broad City,” you’d get something akin to “PEN15.” Named after a schoolyard prank, the new Hulu series is about best friends Maya and Anna (played by co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle) navigating seventh grade in the year 2000.

And here’s the best part: Erskine and Konkle are both in their early 30s but are playing 13-year-old versions of themselves. However, the rest of their middle school peers are portrayed by actual adolescents. It’s weird, but it’s also kind of genius. Who among us doesn’t occasionally still feel like an awkward, clueless 13-year-old?

Also wonderful is “PEN15’s” frankness regarding puberty, and what it’s like for girls. Maya and Anna have a burgeoning interest in sex and thongs, but they also still enjoy playing with dolls and watching Ace Ventura ad nauseum. Even though they’re played by adults, these characters are recognizable, relatable and among pop culture’s best depictions of girls on the verge of womanhood. (RM)

All episodes of “PEN15” Season 1 will be available on Hulu February 8.

Women and Hollywood educates, advocates and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry. The site, founded in 2007 by Melissa Silverstein, sets the standard, defines the conversation, fuels coverage and reinforces messages throughout the specialized and mainstream media to call for gender parity on a daily basis. Follow W&H at @WomenaHollywood and Melissa @MelSil.

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In the Wake of #NunsToo, It’s Time for Repentance and Conversion


It didn’t take long for #ChurchToo to follow #MeToo as survivors came forward to name the harassment, abuse, and assault they had experienced at the hands of clergy. Now we’ve added #NunsToo to the list, as the Pope has at last publicly acknowledged priests’ abuse and sexual assault of nuns. All this, of course, follows on the scandal—still not fully exposed—of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests.

It’s all so terribly mortifying—and even worse, not at all surprising.

The sexual abuse of nuns is not the problem. It’s the symptom. The problem is patriarchy—and the church’s participation in, benefit from and maintenance of sexist structures of power.(Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons)

Feminist theologians have been pointing out the patriarchal underpinnings of the church for decades; when feminist philosopher Mary Daly realized she couldn’t separate Christianity from patriarchy, she abandoned it all. While most feminist theologians don’t go quite that far, we remain clear in our calls for change that transformation won’t be found in a few tweaks to church policy.

What the Church needs—both the Roman Catholic proper and the notion universal—is conversion. Rather than being a radical, counter-cultural force for love and justice in the world, the Christian church has instead mostly been an active participant in a status quo that devalues, exploits and violates women with impunity. The church has shown that at its core, it believes in, embodies and propagates patriarchy.

Christian theology begins with misogynistic views of women’s responsibility for the Fall, women’s weaker nature, women’s greater distance from God-likeness, God’s inherent maleness, women’s exclusion from ordained ministry and male authority. Priests have a lifetime of being told that men are more like God than women, that women are subordinate to men, that women are temptresses responsible for men’s desire. Within the Church, they’re told they’ve been called by God—that they, and only they, have the power to administer the sacraments; that they act on behalf of God and in God’s stead.

In this context, how could anyone surprised that priests abuse nuns? 

Allowing priests to marry is not the answer for this problem—though that’s an important, separate question that the Church should address. Priests don’t rape nuns because they want to have sex. Priests rape nuns because they want to exert power. Allowing priests to marry won’t change that. (One needs to look no further than the number of married men who the world over commit sexual abuse and assault for proof.)

This is not a case of a few bad apples. Christian misogyny is institutionalized in the structures of the Church and the church, and these structures exist mostly to benefit men—particularly the men who receive the most power from them as priests and pastors. In the Church’s hierarchy, nuns answer to the authority of men. When men have unconstrained authority over women, abuse inevitably follows.

The proof is in what we are witnessing. The Church is still unable to come to a full accounting of its abuse of children; it still hedges, deflects and denies. The Church also knew about the abuse of nuns, long before the Pope’s acknowledgement—and in light of its excruciatingly slow response to child abuse by priests, the Pope’s promise to do something about the abuse of nuns doesn’t provide much comfort.

Exactly how much is the Pope willing to do anyway, if he still clings to the notion that women belong under the authority of men in God’s house? This Pope may be a kinder, gentler patriarch, but he is still a patriarch. He may be moving the Church forward on some issues, but he still reinforces women’s subordination. (This dichotomy alone reminds us how critical an intersectional analysis of power remains in communities of faith.) Radical reform of priests’ treatment of women will not come as long as the Church continues to teach that women are secondary—that women cannot represent Christ to the congregation and are somehow still just a little less like God than men.

The sexual abuse of nuns is not the problem. It’s the symptom. The problem is patriarchy—and the church’s participation in, benefit from and maintenance of sexist structures of power.

The way forward lies, ironically enough, in the language of theology. Repentance involves a deep and thorough self-examination of wrong-doing, a full accounting of the harm done and a sincere commitment to restitution and reparation. Conversion means making a 180: repenting and making right the wrongs done to women as well as transforming every inch of the life of the church from its center to ensure welcome, respect, equity and justice for them, across their differences and in every facet of life.

It’s time for the church to renounce its misogyny. It’s time for the church to refuse patriarchy. It’s time for us to construct a new beloved community—a true and inclusive kin-dom of God.

Susan M. Shaw, Ph.D., is a Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University.

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